Following up on Friday’s article, here’s another piece from our Winter 2008 issue, written by author David Blankenhorn.
It appears that we are entering into a new era of our national life, both economically and, more broadly, politically and culturally. Economically, it seems clear that the debt culture is dead, and that the current contraction, painful though it is, marks the beginning of what I hope will be viewed as the era of thrift.
When you think of the old debt culture, think of maxing out your credit cards to pay for everyday consumption. A loan from a bank you never heard of to pay for a mortgage that you probably can’t afford. Donald Trump. Setting aside a few dollars each week to buy lottery tickets. Payday lenders. Hotels with fancy décor. Buying that new flat-screen TV through a rent-to-own deal in which you put about five dollars down and pay about 20 dollars a week for the rest of your life. Politicians regularly urging you, every time something bad happens, to go to the mall and spend more money in order to keep the economy going. Asking the lady at the check-out to double-plastic-bag your purchases.
When you think of the emerging thrift culture, think of spending less than you earn in order to pay down credit card debt. A plain-vanilla mortgage from your local community bank. Warren Buffet. Setting aside a few dollars each week to put into savings. Credit unions. Hotels with free soap and shampoo that you can take home. Buying that new flat-screen TV through a layaway plan (remember those?). Politicians who want to help you save some of your money, on the grounds that not even a nation as great as ours can sustain prosperity that rests on a mountain of ever-growing debt. Taking a non-plastic bag with you to the store.
And what of our near future politically and culturally? On Election Night this year, I found myself thinking of 1932 and 1960.
[click to continue…]